Magazine article The New Yorker

Away from It All

Magazine article The New Yorker

Away from It All

Article excerpt

Ancient and isolated, the twenty Orthodox monasteries on the Greek peninsula of MOUNT ATHOS do not make the headlines often, but the current standoff between the conservative monks of Esphigmenou (motto: "Orthodoxy or Death") and other orders shines a light on this enclave, famous for its total exclusion of females (including livestock) and its extreme notion of solitude: some hermits still live for decades in caves with only the skulls of their predecessors for company. Graham Speake's history Mount Athos (Yale) suggests that the monks have always been a querulous bunch. As early as 972 a.d., the number of monks allowed to attend annual meetings was limited to "avoid the disorders and disputes which have occurred very frequently at these gatherings."

Few people nowadays are attracted to the cloistered life, but in some periods of history joining sacred orders was almost the norm. …

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